When I first started this blog I made a goal to post once a week - every Tuesday. I'm late this week because I can't write about anything other than what we're all seeing all over social media. It doesn't feel right for me to talk about anything else.
Since the horrific murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and countless others, we are starting to have more real, uncomfortable, and necessary conversations about the destructive nature of systemic racism and white supremacy in our world.
Martin said he had a dream. But the nightmare of systemic racism is far from over.
Over these past 2 weeks, I've been doing a lot of reading and listening to podcasts about the topic of racism. I'll admit: I thought I was doing enough by believing in inclusivity. But I have quickly learned that it's not enough to just not be racist. And so I want to share with you what I've been learning and talk a bit about why this topic can be so uncomfortable and how to take responsibility as white people.
"If you're tired of learning about racism, imagine how tired you'd be if you had to experience it."
Lately I've been asking myself these questions:
How can I be a thought leader and not know how to talk about this toxic mindset?
How can I become the leader I want to be?
Where is my place in this?
Where do I stand?
How can I be of service?
What's needed from me?
How does an enlightened mind think of all of this?
What would be a pathway for an unenlightened mind?
How do I plan on being part of the solution?
How am I actively practising anti-racism?
My Experience with Racism
I grew up in a catholic school. Our classrooms were all white at the time. In the 7th grade, a black girl came to our school. She moved into a house just up the street from me.
I was slow to befriend her because I thought my dad would be mad at me if I was her friend.
This is called learned racism.
But the teacher placed us together in class and told me to help her if she needed it.
In no time we were best friends. We were inseparable the entire year and years to come.
I remember the first time I brought her home. My dad wasn’t home. My mom didn’t mind.
I remember kids at school bullied her for her colour. It really bothered me and when I confronted her about it, it seemed like she didn't care. She brushed it off and said that it was something she was used to. I remember feeling like it hurt me more than it hurt her. I remember confronting her and saying that she shouldn’t let people treat her like that. I couldn’t understand that this wasn’t the first time. And that the treatment I saw was “minor” compared to other racist acts she faced or would face.
I tried to stick up for her, but that just embarrassed her. She wanted others to be her friend and so I backed off. I had learned that it was better to not talk about it. It made her uncomfortable.
Being white feels like a lose lose situation. As a white person I can only learn of the affects of racism through watching it happen to people I care about. I will never be able to truly comprehend the pain and suffering in black communities.
As a young girl, I thought I was respecting my friend by not talking about racism. I wanted to take the backseat and stand behind her to support her and let her have the say and the space to speak. But she didn’t speak. And the racism continued.
"If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor."
Fast forward. Years later, I attended a mental health summit for youth leaders. A four day awareness training for mental health and youth leadership. I was a panelist and had to answer questions about mental health and self care.
On the third day of the summit, one of the presentations talked about mental health in black communities. A conversation about racism was started and I raised my hand to give my take on it. I said that it was our job as white people to fix the problems we created. One of the black girls stood up and said that it wasn’t our job to save them.
I completely understand her view.
As we open our eyes to the blindspots we have, we need to also be mindful of the saviour complex.
But it struck me.
The girl told me that it wasn’t my problem, that I could never understand what it was like and that I wasn’t allowed to have an opinion on it.
I understand her anger. She is the only one who can save herself. She’s the only one who truly understands what she’s been through.
And what can I do with such a lack of understanding? How can I truly know what racism feels like?
This leaves me feeling powerless and helpless especially with all the posts on social media.
The real question is: do I stand up for my friends? Do I stand infront of them to protect them from the ignorance? Or do I stand behind them, let them lead and support them? Tell them I have their back?
I've learned that the best and only approach is to stand beside my black siblings.
The worst thing we can do is nothing.
But we have not yet proved that we deserve a say at the racism table. As much as white people have been taught racism, black people have been taught not to trust us.
We need to prove ourselves before we expect them to let us speak up for them.
It's Not Enough to Not Be Racist
We must be Anti-Racist
Racism is a learned behaviour passed down through generations. It is ignorant to say that this mentality is in the past. Racism mentality is obviously embedded in our society. And if you don't see it, you are not paying attention.
We must first face the absolute fact of racism's existence and prevalence in our institutions.
It is our responsibility as adults to work to unlearn toxic behavior from previous generations.
What has been taught must be unlearned.
To unlearn this behavior we have to:
open our eyes to the horrific stories of black people worldwide
be willing to feel their pain
not turn away when it makes us uncomfortable
become aware of our privileges as white people
expose our own blind spots and chose to see clearer
have really hard conversations
let down our defensiveness
be willing to be wrong
focus on solution-based thinking
create healing and progress
Discomfort is necessary for growth
For awhile, I didn't talk about this because I didn't know how. I was afraid of saying the wrong thing.
Even as I'm writing this I worry that people will think this is all I have to say on this topic.
I know now that its better to say the wrong thing and be called out on it than to not speak up at all.
This is how we grow.
These conversations are uncomfortable: yes.
But it is more uncomfortable to be black and living in America.
As we work to demolish the racist mentality, we need to make sure that our journey doesn't stop there.
Unfortuneately, our fight is a lifelong journey. We cannot afford to think for a second that its enough to not make racist jokes or to have a black friend.
As humans, we need to do more work to understand the broken relationship between white people and black people. The mistakes. The pain and suffering that we have caused both directly and indirectly.
Not A Black Person's Fight
This is not just a black person's fight.
White people created this problem both knowingly and unknowingly.
We have to be the solution.
Where to go from here as a white anti-racist
Educate Yourself. Use the resources at the bottom of this page to learn more
Learn how to talk about racism. Learn how to move past the discomfort.
Explore your own blindspots and work to improve them.
Learn about white privilage and how to act
White people are not emotionally strong enough to be able to empathize and feel the pain that black people have felt for way too long and so we turn away. We need to be emotionally stronger so that we can look. We need to be strong enough to open our eyes and to see the wounds our people have inflicted. It’s painful to take on so much guilt and responsibility. Its incredibly hard to let your blinders come off and take down your defenses. It takes an emotionally strong person to be able to look themselves in the eyes and say I’ve done something wrong.
But doing something wrong, does not mean you ARE wrong. We can’t take this guilt and pain and internalize it and think that we are bad people.
Because it’s not productive. It’s not true and its not the type of forward thinking that we need in order to be a part of the solution.
These acts of direct or indirect racism whether by neutrality or brutality, are every white persons responsibility. We need to own up to what we’ve done including not educating ourselves further. But we can’t get stuck there.
Our focus should be moving forward with anti-racism. Our mindsets moving forward need to be solution-based thinking.
How can we show black people that we deserve to be a part of the conversation?
How can we prove to them that we can have a say by saying the right things?
Where I stand:
I honestly believe that I can't solve this problem with just one blog post. I plan on creating more posts to educate people.
I am going to continue to learn more about my place in this and how I can better be a part of the solution.
I would like to call forth anyone who is willing to share with me their experience to better educate myself on racism.
I will continue to read books and listen to podcasts that expand my consciousness about racism (I know its not other peoples job to educate me but I still want to hear their story).
I want to study how to help people of colour with their mental health as it relates to racism.
I want to learn how to help people of colour heal these wounds.
I would like to be a part of leading other white people to better understand their own privileges and blindspots.
And most importantly I vow to never think that the fight is over.
I am becoming aware now that I have not done enough and I understand that I may never do enough. There is no anti-racist checklist or 5 steps to anti-racism to add to your morning routine. Ending racism is not a one-time event.
More than anything I want to be a part of a better tomorrow
If you have resources you'd like to share please leave a comment so other people can see them too!